Nobel Prize 2016: Here Are the Winners and What They Achieved

The Nobel Prizes, established by Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel in 1895, have recognized achievements in a suite of sciences and the people behind those scientific pinnacles. Here’s a list of the 2016 Nobel Prize winners, which will be updated each day as new awards are announced. Live Science also explains, in plain English, how the Nobel Laureates contributed to science and humankind.

Fukuoka, Japan-born scientist, Yoshinori Ohsumi illuminated a cellular process called autophagy, or “self-eating,” in which cells take unneeded or damaged material, including entire organelles, and transport them to a recycling compartment of sorts — in yeast cells, this compartment is called the lisosome, while vacuoles serve a similar purpose in human cells.

Ohsumi figured out a way to observe the inner workings of yeast cells and reveal autophagy inside them. He went even further to identify the genes involved in yeast autophagy and to show that similar self-eating mechanisms occur inside human cells. His discoveries in the 1990s led to a new understanding of how the cell recycles its contents, opening up a window into the importance of autophagy to several physiological processes and even to understanding certain diseases. Mutations in autophagy have been linked to diseases such as cancer and neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease.

David J. Thouless, F. Duncan M. Haldane and J. Michael Kosterlitz were jointly awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in physics for “theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter.” (Topology refers to “a branch of mathematics that describes properties that change step-wise,” according to the Nobel Foundation.)

These theoretical discoveries revealed the possibility of a bizarre world where matter can take on different, and strange, states. Using advanced mathematics, the trio examined weird states of matter, such as superfluids, or substances that behave like liquids but have zero viscosity or resistance to flow. In superfluids, there is no friction impeding the liquid’s flow and so its particles act as one super particle. Other exotic states of matter include thin magnetic films and superconductors.

Some examples of the odd behavior of these states of matter include: superfluid vortexes that continue to spin without slowing down, forever, and when electrical current flows, with no resistance, through a superconductor.

“Thanks to their pioneering work, the hunt is now on for new and exotic phases of matter. Many people are hopeful of future applications in both materials science and electronics,” reads a statement by the Nobel Foundation.

Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Sir J. Fraser Stoddart and Bernard L. Feringa were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry “for the design and synthesis of molecular machines.” In other words, this trio developed the world’s smallest machines by linking together molecules into a unit that, when energy is added, could do some kind of work. These machines, a thousand times thinner than a strand of hair, included a tiny lift, mini motors and artificial muscles.

By miniaturizing machines, these Nobel Laureates have “taken chemistry to a new dimension,” according to a Nobel Prize statement.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has won the Nobel Peace Prize “for his resolute efforts to bring the country’s more than 50-year-long civil war to an end, a war that has cost the lives of at least 220,000 Colombians and displaced close to 6 million people,” according to a statement by the Nobel Foundation.

President Santos helped to negotiate a peace deal between the Colombian government and Marxist FARC guerrillas, or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. He ensured that Colombians could voice their opinion about the peace accord in a referendum; however, a narrow majority of voters said no to the accord. Even so, because of the accord, a ceasefire went into effect at the end of August. The accord is contingent on a referendum that will be held this month.

“If you compare it to other peace agreements throughout the recent history, you will find that this is the most comprehensive and the most complete. We did not leave any detail out,” he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, according to a CNN news article.

Because of the lack of wholehearted support among Colombians, the peace process could stall and civil war could erupt again, according to the Nobel Foundation.

“The award should also be seen as a tribute to the Colombian people who, despite great hardships and abuses, have not given up hope of a just peace, and to all the parties who have contributed to the peace process,” the Nobel Foundation said. “This tribute is paid, not least, to the representatives of the countless victims of the civil war.”